Business & Development, Community

Anything goes at Saginaw: Customers can’t get enough of farmhouse atmosphere

SAGINAW – If you’re looking at possible spots to host your wedding this summer, go ahead and cross Saginaw Vineyard off your list. They’re all booked. 

“It’s all because of the goats,” owner Jack Tibbetts said recently. 

“We seriously had one couple who had this awesome photo shoot where these goats were standing up on their back legs while they were doing their vows and the goats were trying to nibble at her dress or something.” 

Jack’s wife, Ali, then chimed in: “One girl this summer wants to walk with her horse. She asked me if she can ride her horse down the aisle. I said sure.” 

To which Jack replied: “Anything goes at Saginaw Vineyard.” 

That’s the undeniable appeal of this cozy little slice of heaven that’s situated between Creswell and Cottage Grove. 

With 13 goats, 11 sheep, 3 horses, 1 donkey, 3 adopted cats – Toby, Virgo, and Poppy –  and their big dog, Shep, the official greeter, a visit to this vineyard is almost like going back in time to Grandpa’s farm. 

“There’s animals everywhere,” Jack said. “We already had our own two cats, and the neighbors have cats. A lot of cats running around here … we call it ‘Cat-Topia.’” 

They’re all a part of the family now. Part of an ever-growing family that became Jack and Ali’s – and their two young sons – less than two years ago, in May 2022, when they moved from Santa Rosa, Calif., and purchased Saginaw Vineyard from previous owners Scott and Karen Byler – a nerve-racking process that went on for nearly a year before their loan was approved.

“It was kinda crazy, honestly, when you think about it,” Ali, 30,  said. “We were in escrow for 10 months trying to get a loan from USDA. Every other day it’s going through, now it’s not going, now it is …it was really crazy. That was the biggest hurdle.”

“During escrow we started doing the farming and we had to contribute wine to the business,” said Jack, 33. “It was an excellent trial by fire – Scott was showing us all the idiosyncrasies of this old building and grounds. He was really great about showing us how to fix the hot water heater, or if the tractor is not running, ‘Oh, just hit the flow switch a couple times with a crescent wrench’ – it was that kind of granular details like that.”  

“(Scott) still answers our phone calls when we need help with things,” said Ali.  

The Bylers had essentially been shut down during Covid, but they were winding down and getting ready to retire anyway as the Tibbetts were going through the escrow process. 

 “I think we were fortunate to come in with such a loyal customer base,” Ali said. “We’re thankful to Scott and Karen for setting the groundwork for us to hit the ground running with good crowds.”


Winemaker Ben Gilbert, left, has won numerous state and regional awards for owners Ali and Jack Tibbetts.

Finding a good winemaker was the next job. Not an easy task. But they didn’t just find a good winemaker; they found a champion winemaker.

Jack and Ali have been thanking their lucky stars ever since. 

“The bread and butter of this business is the wine club – we have about 400 members, which is extraordinary for a place our size,” Jack said. “Every quarter they get billed for their shipment, and it was important to us that they still got the same quality wine they were accustomed to. We truly feel like Saginaw is the Cottage Grove and Creswell winery. Sure, you have Chateau Lorane and King Estate, but I’d say those are as much Eugene’s wineries as they are Creswell and Cottage Grove’s.

“To get this USDA loan you have to have three years of agricultural experience, and Ali and I had virtually no experience. The closest thing we had was Ali had a baby bottle-kid goat that was living in our bedroom at the time. 

“We got to Ben Gilbert’s resume, and his was the last resume in the pile. It was our last-ditch effort to get the loan. He was fresh out of college, 23, and we told him all you have to do is make passable wine, and he said, ‘Yeah, I think I can do that,’ and he has turned out to be quite an exceptional winemaker. He got a 97 double-gold for the Northwest Region, which includes Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Alaska, and British Columbia. That was a big deal for us. He has won numerous regional and state awards. 

“When you step into this as a bunch of youngsters trying to make a go of it and one of you turns out to be Seabiscuit, it can be a pretty good thing.”

Making good wine is one challenge. Tending to the grapes is a constant battle, too – especially when the animals are behaving badly. 

“The sheep that we had were naughty,” Ali said. “They would get out a lot and eat a lot of grapes, so we sent them to another farm. Then we got 11 baby doll sheep, and they’re great. They can’t reach the grapes.”

“They serve a  utilitarian purpose in the vineyard,” Jack added. “They keep the growth between the rows – the sucker leaves on the lines – chewed down, so they’re not just cute and people like them, they fertilize, and that means I don’t have to run the tractor as much.”

Most of the sheep aren’t named, but the goats are. There’s a new baby goat named Nutmeg along with its mama Emmy Lou. Another goat is called Dolly, as most of the females are named after famous country singers. 

And let’s not forget about Borbon, the baby calf that everybody and their cousin wants to come by and see.

“I get Facebook messages and calls from people every day, they want to come and see the baby calf,” Ali said. “Our friend Vanessa works the night shift as a nurse, and every morning she’s out there, she comes in and feeds the baby calf, and that’s the way we want Saginaw Vineyard to be, we want it to be everybody else’s place.”


It was Ugly Christmas Sweater Night on this particular Friday Night Live, and joy was in the air. 

That’s because a longtime Saginaw Vineyard staple was struttin’ her stuff on stage. The Fiddlin’ Big Sue Band, a monthly regular act for many years, is still having just as much fun as they did in the old days at Saginaw.

“This place is so welcoming to all ages. Everybody is here to have a good time,” said Susan Hunnel, aka Fiddlin’ Big Sue, as a packed house milled around during her break between sets. Toby, a charcoal-and-white cat, lay perched on a nearby table, as patrons took turns giving him some holiday affection. 

Sue’s husband, Tom Hunnel, played guitar, mandolin, and banjo, but now has Parkinsons. Their band was originally known as the Whiskey Creek String Band, then Fiddlin’ Sue, Uncle T and Johnny, and then, finally, the Fiddlin’ Big Sue Band, which now features lead singer Janet Nelson and bassist Jesse Baldwin.

“Tom and I have been married for 47 years and we’ve been playing music ever since,” Hunnel said. “I’m 70. I’m going to play forever – I learned to play by ear and still play that way. 

“My grandpa made my fiddles. I used to listen to a Nashville station late at night – I listened to ‘Turkey in the Straw’ on the radio, moved to Newport from Fresno when i was 19, and I met a man Ben Hunter who played in a band called the Music Farmers and he said, ‘I can teach you how to play by ear,’ and he let me sit behind the band and he told me to sit there and play what I hear. 

“In 1972, I played in front of a crowd that was half Hell’s Angels and half country and hippies, and a Hell’s Angel came up and handed me five bucks and said, ‘You’re damn good,’ and I walked away with my mouth wide open, and I said, ‘I’m doing this again.’ And I’ve been doing it ever since.”


One of the 13 goats, pictured above, is among the many animals that roam the grounds at Saginaw Vineyard.

Jack and Ali both said they have fallen in love with the Creswell and Cottage Grove communities. And they’ve been overwhelmed by the amount of help and generosity they’ve received from their customers and new friends.  

“We’ve had amazing help,” Jack said. “Michael saw I was falling behind on yardwork, and said if I just gave him gas money, he’d started taking care of our lawns and becoming our full-time labor guy. But he’s a volunteer.

“The gal he’s with, Lily, has been like a pseudo-grandma to our kids, watching our kids for us when we need them. Tara and Ken, wine club members, wanted to do a harvest with us and they came out and helped with that. Dave and Kelli, our bartender, they’re always helping out with our events.”

“These people come together – Cheryl Lynn and David – they live in Cottage Grove – she’s helped us here and he’s helped us hunt the grounds for deer because they eat the grapes and reduce the yield of your harvest, and of course the work crew folks we have. They all become your family, too, so we have Sunday dinners with them.”  

“Don’t forget Pauline,” Ali added. “She’s a real estate broker. I just got my real estate license a couple months ago, so I’m working for her now.”

“There’s an authenticity about Oregon and the people in the communities here,” Jack said. “We found that right away. You get here, everybody has a role that they play here, and everybody who does something, they do it really well. Which is unique in this world, in this day and age, and it’s inspiring.”

Jack and Ali are both Oregonians originally – his family is from Tillamook, hers from Medford – so they were eager to get back home. It’s been a good move. The Tibbetts – and all of their four-legged friends – appear to have found the quintessential landing spot. They’re thrilled to be here, and the community is thrilled to have them. A symbiotic relationship, as Jack puts it. 

“Ali was pregnant with Casey, we wanted to raise our kids in a rural community with agricultural values, and we just assumed that people came together and helped one another,” Jack said. “What was so awesome about that assumption was that it came true, and that’s probably been for me the most bountiful aspect about that change in our lives.” 

Casey is now 3. Little brother Luke is 9 months old. 

Jack doesn’t set lofty goals – unless you’re referring to the unending list of chores in the loft of the barn. But seriously, with over 30 acres of land to manicure, he says his No. 1 goal is to finish painting all the buildings on the grounds. 

“Everybody does a little bit of everything. We painted the barn this past year, Ben and I,” Jack said. “We are adding more grapes. We’re adding another acre – plan to add Muller-Thurgau – a summertime wine, some call it porch-sipper, low alcohol. Ben got the double-gold on that one – so we’re planting an extra acre for that one. 

“Most of our wines come from our property. We have 4-5 sourced from other properties, to give customers a variety.”

 But most of all, the Tibbetts want everyone to feel at home. To feel like Saginaw Vineyard is their “special place” to go when they want to go out. 

“We’re just kind of stewards of it,” Jack said. ‘The Bylers had it since 1991. Before them, the Olsen family had it since 1906. They’re the ones who built the vineyard. 

“Just come on down and make it your home. It’s everyone else’s turn to feed the calves.”



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